The Povolzhye Famine & Cannibalism – 1921-1922

The despair of Russian peasants facing starvation during a famine that spirited away the country in the years after the revolution is revealed by these haunting pictures of human heads for sale.

Haunted Pic 1
A couple stand solemnly in their thick winter coats behind a table laden with children’s body parts, including two heads. 

More than five million people died during the cataclysm, which began in 1921, and lasted through 1922.

Russian communist revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known as “Lenin”, had been in charge of the country since 1917. In a chilling disregard for the suffering of his fellow countrymen he instructed food to be seized from the poor.

Lenin’s Bolsheviks party believed peasants were actively trying to impair the war effort, and by taking their food away – it reduced their strength.

The famine was able to take root with ease due to the economic problems caused by World War I, five years of civil war, and a drought in 1921 which led to 30 million Russians becoming malnourished.

As Lenin declared, ‘let the peasants starve’, the result was to force them to resort to trading human flesh on the black market.

Haunted Pic 2
This photo taken in October 1921 shows starving children at Samara Camp during the famine in Russia.

Russian academics have previously researched and classified examples of cannibalism, and corpse eating, and in one account described how a woman refused to give over her husband’s dead body because she was using it for meat.

The starving peasants were even seen digging up recently buried corpses to retrieve their flesh, as well as eating grass, and animals that were previously considered pets.

The police took no action as cannibalism was considered a legitimate method of survival.

Eventually aid workers from America and Europe arrived, and in 1921 one wrote a stomach churning description of what they’d seen:

“Families were killing, and devouring fathers, grandfathers, and children.”

Another aid worker reported:

“Ghastly rumors about sausages prepared with human corpses though officially contradicted, were common. In the market, among rough huckstresses swearing at each other, one heard threats to make sausages of a person.”

Under the headline ‘Mother turns cannibal’, the Mirror reported on January 16,1922: ‘Famine is so acute in the Pugatjewsk district of Samara that a woman at the village of Mokscha was found eating the corpse of her daughter.’

Haunted Pic 3
A couple with their starving children during a famine in the U.S.S.R., circa 1922.
Haunted Pic 4
This photo taken in 1921 shows a family stricken by famine in the Volga region, Russia, during the Russian Civil War.
Haunted Pic 5
In this picture taken in October 1921, famine-stricken refugee children are seen in Russia during the Russian Civil War. Other disturbing images from the famine show children suffering with severe malnutrition, their stomachs bloated, and almost every bone in their body visible.

One of the worst hit places was the city of Samara, situated in the southeastern part of European Russia at the confluence of the Volga and Samara Rivers.

Aid from outside Russia was initially rejected by Lenin because he saw it as other countries interfering.

Polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen came to the city in 1921, and was horrified by what he saw – almost the entire city was dying from hunger.

He raised 40 billion Swiss francs, and established up to 900 places where people could get food.

Lenin was eventually convinced to let international aid agencies in, and Nansen was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

The American American Relief Administration, who were told they could not help in 1919, were granted access to the sick, and starving in 1921, and provided great relief along with European aid agencies such as Save The Children, and The Great Humanitarian: Herbert Hoover’s Food Relief Efforts.

Lenin died shortly after the famine, in 1924, and was replaced by Joseph Stalin who became the leader of the Soviet Union.

Haunted Pic 6
A canteen for starving people in the town of Pokrovsk, near Saratov, in the Soviet union, in 1923.


Haunted Pic 9
A child is pictured crying in a hospital of Samara. The photo was displayed by the Humanitarian Mission of Fridjtof Nansen in: Histoire des Soviets, by Henri de Weindel, France, 1922-23.
Haunted Pic 11
This photo from 1921 shows funerals being held for starved children in the streets of Samara.
Haunted Pic 12
Children are seen starving, and wrapped in blankets in the Hospital of Samara in 1921.
Haunted Pic 13
A starving Chuvash family are seen near their tent in Samara, in the Soviet Union, in 1921-22.
Haunted Pic 14
Dead bodies are carried by cart in Samara in this photo by Henri de Weindel in 1922-23.
Haunted Pic 15
A starving boy is pictured in 1933 in documents from the archives of the Ukrainian security service.
Haunted Pic 16
An armed man guards the storage of crop, and emergency supply grain for the year 1934 in this documentary photograph displayed at an exhibition in kiev, dedicated to Holodomor, the great Ukrainian famine of early 1930s.
Haunted Pic 17
Women walk past people dying of starvation during Holodomor, a man-made famine in Soviet Ukraine in 1932 and 1933.


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